MINNEAPOLIS - A man prosecutors say was at the center of a large-scale drug operation will serve more than 20 years in prison after being sentenced in federal court Monday.
District Court Judge Donovan W. Frank sentenced 45-year-old Jesus "Jesse" Mendoza to 252 months in prison as part of a plea agreement. Mendoza plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine and 100 or more kilograms of marijuana, and one count of aiding and abetting money laundering.
Federal investigators say Mendoza was the leader of an organization that distributed large quantities of cocaine and marijuana in Minnesota between 2005 and October of 2010. United States.
"Prior to his arrest, Jessie Mendoza was a long-tenured leader of a Minnesota-based drug trafficking organization distributing illicit drugs and laundering money," said Dan Moren, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Minneapolis-St Paul office of the Drug Enforcement Administration following the sentencing. "The Mendoza organization utilized private aircraft and commercial vehicles to smuggle cocaine and marijuana from California to Minnesota -- Mr. Mendoza personally amassed millions of dollars running this criminal enterprise."
In his plea agreement, Mendoza admitted that from January of 2005 through October of 2010 he led a drug-trafficking organization that moved controlled substances from other states, including California, and distributed them throughout Minnesota.
Mendoza, who was arrested in December of 2010, admitted he coordinated the shipment of controlled substances, including methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana. In addition, the defendant admitted that the drugs were shipped via automobile, commercial truck and even private aircraft.
Nine of Mendoza's co-conspirators have already pleaded guilty, six of whom have already been sentenced. Several of the defendants attempted to conceal the proceeds of their illegal drug-trafficking operation by purchasing a number of high-priced items, including a 1965 Cessna single-engine airplane, custom motorcycles, other vehicles and real estate.
Co-conspirators who have not yet been sentenced are 53-year-old Patrick James Lauer of St. Paul, 32-year-old Seth Paul Neel of Riverside, California, and 45-year-old Larry Chester Sheehan of Woodbury. All three pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy. They each face a potential maximum penalty of life in prison, with a mandatory minimum penalty of ten years.
To date, law enforcement has seized more than $2 million in assets related to the drug distribution, including seven vehicles, two motorcycles, more than $817,000 in cash, two residential properties, and nearly $700,000 in jewelry.
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